I snow camped for the first time last January with the PNWOW group on the flanks of Mt Rainier for a glorious weekend. Snow camping Artist Point may have been even better than the first round. Last year, being surrounded by so many women absolutely thrilled to camp outside in the cold was grand. So when the opportunity came to join the group again, I jumped at the chance. Then, there was a government shutdown. Sleeping at Paradise was out and trying to find a second place to accommodate that large of a group without impacting the area was nearly impossible.
However, the weather remained phenomenal and a small group of us were still devoted to spending the night under the stars, under the watchful eye of one of Washington’s great volcanoes. We turned our sights to snowshoeing Artist Point under Koma Kulshan, the great volcano to the north. I completed the route as a snowshoe trip during the day several times, but always hoped to spend the night. At less than 2 miles from the trailhead, the walk is relatively easy with a large pack filled to the brim with the gear necessary to spend the night.
When I went snow camping the previous year, my pack weighed nearly 45 pounds and I struggled to leave the parking lot. I carried a 4-season tent for two, my own cookset, a bear can, and all of my overnight gear. I was essentially doing a solo trip, despite being surrounded by women. This year, I had an adventure community. Someone to share a tent with, a cookset, no bear can needed and a better understanding of what I needed. Sharing the physical weight was a great improvement but the true change came from going it alone to having a women to lean on and share it with.
Artist Point Snowshoe
We arrived at the parking lot around 9:50 to an almost full lot. The overnight parking was full, and we were among the last six cars before the entire lot was closed. Grateful to have made, even by the skin of our teeth, we packed the last minute items in our packs, strapped on snowshoes and headed to the trailhead. There we met up with more PNWOW’ers hoping to make up for the government shutdown by a trip to Artist Point. Our group of 19 women set out on the trail and began the single-file trek upwards.
The route rolls over small hills, climbs steeply and then rewards snowshoers and skiers with a stunning view of Mt. Shuksan. Then the route traverses across avalanche terrain before climbing upwards until Koma Kulshan is visible in all of its glory.
We arrived, took in the sights for a few moments and then began to scope out tent placement. Katherine and I found a spot that boasted views of Shuksan and Koma Kulshan and set to work digging our pit.
We dug, pulled out the tent, realized the pit was too small. Dug some more. Repeated this process three more times before at last we were able to set up the little tent. Famished after this manual labor, I pulled out my sandwich, sat on my pad and enjoyed watching everyone else dig around me.
Before too long, we had a little village of tents and had time to relax. Doris brought her polk sled to carry her gear, which meant we were surrounded by gentle, rolling hills, time to kill and a sled. So we did the only reasonable thing: we jumped on the sled and went up and down the little hills. Kaelee rocked the steep hill from the beginning while the rest of us either opted for the bunny hill or total wipeout. After a few lessons from Kaelee (hint, lean back!), we all made it down the hill for an epic run out.
Artist Point Snow Camping
Sunset At Artist Point
After we exhausted our joy for sledding, Teresa pulled out crevasse rescue gear and gave us a quick run-down on how to save someone from a crevasse. By the time the lessons were over, the sun was beginning to set.
Sarina and I threw on a few extra layers, strapped on snowshoes and walked to Huntoon Point to enjoy the sunset from above.
The light on Shuksan turned golden, accentuating its dramatic, craggy angles. As dark began to settle, we made our way back to our tent village for a little dinner. Several lovely women dug a kitchen and we all gathered around for dinner. Pringles and desserts passed in endless circles as the stars came out.
By 7:30, it was too cold for me to remain outside the tent. I packed up my gear, snuggled into my 3-layered kind of a disaster but mostly works winter set-up and quickly fell asleep. I woke once in the middle of the night to a stunning display of the white behemoth mountains lit by a starry sky. I enjoyed it for about three minutes then snuggled back down.
Sunrise at Artist Point
I woke in the morning, still tired after 12 hours inside a tent. But the morning’s light was beginning to show on the horizon and if sunset was any indication, sunrise was not to be missed. After all, for me the great privilege of snow camping is the ability to see the area as it changes in a 24-hour cycle.
Sure enough, as I swapped my three layers of down jackets for a giant down parka and my down skirt, the light was beginning to glow. As the sun pushed upwards, the sky turned a glorious pink.
When all was said and done, we gathered around the kitchen for breakfast, and by the time we were ready to take down the tents, the sun was high in the sky and warm enough for tank tops. We packed everything into our bags then filled in our tent pits, attempting to erase all evidence that we were there.
Artist Point Snowshoe: Heading Home
We gathered for a group photo and admired Nikki Frumkin’s painting of the sunrise from that morning. Enjoyed the final few moments in this snowy paradise at Artist’s Point before snowshoeing back to the car.
We packed up our gear, hoisted our packs then set out towards the car. Most of us snowshoed our way down, though a few skiers took the fast trek. Doris and Kaelee situated the polk sled between, reducing the risk that Doris would be taken out from behind by her sled. After 2 short miles, we were back to the parking lot and ready to hit the road.
Koma Kulshan or Mt. Baker?
Mt. Baker became known as such in the late 1700’s but was well-known in the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years prior, as it is a prominent peak on Washington’s horizon. The Lummi and Nooksack tribes both had a name for the peak: Koma Kulshan or simply Kulshan (Lummi: Qwú’mə Kwəlshéːn, Nooksack: Kw’eq Smaenit or Kwelshán).
The exact translation of the phrases has been debated, with names including the common translation the “Great White One”. Other translations include “a bleeding wound, where one is struck”, perhaps referencing active volcanic activity. Another translation includes “shot at the end”.
The peak earned the name Mt. Baker in 1972 as George Vancouver surveyed the Salish Sea. When 3rd Lieutenant Jospeh Baker spotted the peak, Vancouver thought it apt to name it after him and the tradition has been continued by many. My thoughts echo those of Theodore Winthrop, an author that visited the Lummi tribe in 1853.